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Kenya, January & February 2012: 1
Monday, February 06, 2012 - 05:00 PM - 3 years, 3 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
Kenya, January & February 2012: 1
MONDAY Oh, Kenya, Kenya, Kenya. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come back here, ‘cause your coffees are delicious and your land is beautiful. Maybe it was the Nairobi traffic that put me off, cause in all fairness, it’s still atrocious! But in spite of spending yesterday green with food poisoning (thanks Virgin Atlantic) I couldn’t be happier to be back during a very interesting year for Kenyan coffees, with the harvest being the biggest they’ve seen in a good few years; more than double of last year. Last year prices were also through the roof with very little coffee available and a C at dizzying heights, but this year the C is settling back down a bit and with cherry supply so rich; the farmers’ expectations of even better prices this crop is unrealistic and a hard expectation to manage for the marketing agents. The system in Kenya is unlike most countries in that the majority of coffee is sold via auction, although there is a second window open for buying outside of this platform should you want to/be able to. Growers are typically small with shambas of 0.5 to 1 hectares and perhaps as little as 50 trees each, so they pool their coffee together at their local factories; wet mills that buy the cherry and process it to exportable parchment, then sell it via marketing agents to exporters. The first day of cupping was spent with Dormans who have helped us find and bring in many of our favourite Kenyas over the years. I’m traveling with Ben from San Francisco and Mie from Vancouver, and having sent through a wishlist of coffees to try before arrival we got straight to it alongside the wonderful Bridget, Kennedy and Daniel. Amidst the 4-500+ samples they cup every day just checking auction samples, arrivals and stock, you feel quite daunted by the speed and palate fatigue about to conspire against you while people like Bridget breeze in and out sipping through the cups calling out scores. It’s pretty full on but the lab is set up to run like clockwork, led by John and Dixon in charge of each their 5 and 4 barrel Probat sample roaster, churning out impressively precise and consistent roast levels. I panic if I have to run more than 2 of my 5 barrels at a time, so someone like John, who now close to retiring has been doing this for over 30 years, really makes me want to do better. I’m not sure I could ever do what the cupping team does every day though, the acidic coffees just dry out your tastebuds so fast- taking breaks have never been so needed and effective. Before they even get to the roasting you have Wilson checking every sample of green that come in from the warehouses, screening 100 grams to find out if the bean sizes really are what they say on the bag. I had a little go myself and to my surprise one of the samples being marketed as a AA, only contained 40% beans at screen 18+, the rest being a manky mix of small beans, shells and debris. This is not to say that that 40% of actual AA would not be delicious, but you have to leverage your price if bidding on a lot like this to reflect the fact that once you’ve cleaned it up at your own mill you’re left with more than half of the lot unsellable at AA prices. Along the wall of windows looking out onto the lush gardens at Dorman, Sam and his crew will line up sections of 15-20 coffees at a time, two bowls of each sample holding 16 grams of coffee, pour the cups half full, steep them for 4 minutes before giving them a quick stir and then top up with more water. After a skim and a wait till they’ve cooled, you cup and give your verdict, while the next flight of coffees is already steeping further down the table. And so it goes in stages, a constant circle of coffees roasting, grinding, brewing, cooling and cupping. There is no 24 hour rest after roasting, no sniffing of the grounds or the break, no cupping from hot through to cool, no elaborate note taking and deliberating over half points. While I tried to note down as quickly as I could what flavours I could find and what I might use the lot for, Bridget would frequently overtake me calling out her scores of 323, 233, 232/2, 223/4 and so on, to the assistant closely following her and writing the results into the auction catalogue. The numbers are quick evaluations on three main categories of assessment: Washed coffees: Acidity: Strong Good (FAQ plus) Reasonable (FAQ plus) Light (FAQ minus) Very Light None Body: Heavy Reasonable Light Very Little None Flavour: Strong Good Some Slight Very little None Unwashed/Mbuni: Acidity: Slight Light Thin/None Body: Light Medium Heavy Flavour: Fair/Good Fair Slightly quakery Slightly earthy Harsh Musty Sourish Potato Fermented Full earthy Geil Quakery Given that 111’s are apparently a bit like unicorns, what we’d be hoping to find would be 222’s at best, and I was very excited to see what we’d get out of a sample of a recent delivery of Tegu which was on one of the tables in AA, AB as well as PB screenings. But it became apparent across this and many other factory lots that the AA’s aren’t really that popping this year and that the AB selections in many cases are as good or even better. There might be many reasons for this, an unusual growing cycle and large crop depleting or abnormally distributing nutrients, facilities at factories and mills struggling with the volumes causing less than ideal drying and storing conditions being two that I feel there must be most validity to. After a brief lunch with Chris and Teya and a run down on the Dorman cafes remodeling plans, we returned for more cupping and a chat about Dorman’s plans for moving into other African countries, all which sounds very exciting and will be great to follow closely in the years to come. TUESDAY We squeezed in another cupping at Dorman in the morning, but as Tuesdays are the only auction days we only made two tables before having to head out. The auction takes place once pr week during the season, with a break in June and July and perhaps fortnightly auctions in the slow weeks either side of the summer holiday. The exporters receive samples of all the coffees to be auctioned off in the following week so they can cup, check the quality and plan for what they wish to bid on, then they head to the auction house and get their trigger finger ready to push the button that drives the prices up, a dollar at a time. It sounds a bit more exciting than it actually is, the room is a medium sized auditorium with a big screen hung up for all to follow the lots coming up, the prices as it goes up and the names of the winning bidders. Up to 50-70 traders might be in at a time, sat at their regular seats, and the bidding on a lot stops when only one trader is still pushing the button. (Apparently in Tanzania the bidding goes as longs as any button is pushed, so a single trader can effectively keep raising his bid by no letting go of the button fast enough, even if no one else is pushing theirs.) Each marketing agent has their slot in the day and the order rotates from week to week. Each marketing agent may also have any grade from AA through AB, PB, C, T, TT, UG or UG1 to sell (that’s for washed coffees, naturals are sold as MH- Mbuni Heavy and ML- Mbuni Light) so if you’re only interested in AA lots, but from several marketing agents, you quickly end up spending full days at the auction waiting for your lots to come up. I’m told it’s wise to pack a lunch and perhaps bring some magazines if you know you’re in for a long one, but even if you’re not actively bidding yourself- many traders will follow closely what everyone else is buying and what prices they go for, taking full advantage of the transparency this system offers. While the auction room might not be the most thrilling place to sit and watch for hours on end, you could always go up to the sample room where they keep the bags of 21 kg green the mills send down every week via their marketing agents. They will also cup these samples and give some indication to the farmers on what prices hey should expect. The regular exporters can then each get 200g of these samples for their evaluations, and 160g are retained by the mill for reference in any arbitrations that might pop up after sale. After the auction is done, the winning exporter can go get another 500g to take back for further cupping and distribution to potential end buyers. The benches and shelves of brown paper bags with outturn numbers, grade descriptors and lot size indications scribbled on them seemed to go on for miles in this place. In front of each bag a small tray with some of the contents is places so that any exporters can easily inspect the lots if needed. Macharia, who was prepping some trays as we arrived, gave me an auction catalogue and took me through some of the various grades to be found- it’s quite the contrast when you see AA’s and T’s or ML’s displayed next to eachother. Today we also drove north towards Nyeri to visit the Central Kenya Coffee Mill, slowly creeping out of Nairobi in the middle of the horrendous Nairobi-Thika highway roadworks, burning rubber and rubbish along the wayside and trucks, motorcycles and fully stuffed mutatus making up traffic rules and lanes as they went along. Once into busy Zimmerman it got a bit more peaceful, burning scrap making way to furniture makers creating and selling their pieces, stalls overflowing with fruits and vegetables, building materials of every sort on offer and people seeking shade from the hot midday sun. Where the road has not yet been paved you drive through belts where the 10 meters of greenery on either side of the road is just covered in the red dust from the soil, and you have contrasts like huge apartment complexes being constructed across the road form fields of produce where women are hunched over in the scorching heat weeding and tending to their crops. The first stop on the way was the CMS managed Yadini Estate near Ruiru, a fun looking little town where music playing on streetcorners and shops called things like ‘The Pork Place’ instantly made me take a liking to it. Yadini was established in the early 1920’s and has 27 sections across 83 hectares, 7 of the plots SL, the rest Ruiru11 and a Batian plot in planning. Batian is a variety that was released in 2010, developed to have much the same resistance to pests as the Ruiru11 from 1985, but to cup at a quality more like the SL’s- and yield well of course. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to cup any on this trip, I’m generally careful about getting too excited or too skeptical about this sort of thing, but I’m always open to cup. At Yadini we were greeted by their agronomist Hezron who guided us through a small section of the estate, explaining about their work. He filled us in on their tight routines in using fertilizers and fungicides, with leaf rust and coffee berry disease being the two main threats to the Kenyan coffee stocks. We also see some trees affected by berry moth, turning cherries black on the branch. Magnesium, lime, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium etc is used to add the needed nutrients, and dug out divets between trees and rows ensure water can be retained and leaves and cuttings slowly compost. Bluegrass is grown betweeen rows helping to prevent erosion but also providing organic material. The murram soil here is so different from the spungy, soft, green carpets of undergrowth you see in many other countries, it’s so hard and barren, dusty and dry, it’s not hard to see why they need to invest a lot of money into fertilizers here. But the trees all look healthy and strong, capped at 6 feet tall as this is how high the arm on the tractor spraying fungicides will go, and of course it makes it easier to pick the top of the trees without having to use ladders. Some of the trees on this farm have absolutely massive trunks at the base, very old root systems that have expanded over the years as pruning has kept the upwards growth young for carrying good yields. The practice of stumping here is done differently for the Ruiru and the SL, as one has a denser growth than the other and benefits more from better access to sunlight. For the Ruirus, two main mama trunks are kept on the tree. At 7 years, one of them is stumped, leaving the one mama still producing while 2 new shoots are allowed to develop from the root. After another two years, the old mama is chopped off and the two young branches are allowed to continue on to 7 years, when one of them will be cut, etc etc. For the SL’s, three mamas are the standard, two being cut at 7 years and three new ones allowed to come up, then at 4-5 years the remaining old mama is cut. Pruning is a main concern here to keep the yield up, and June is the time when Hezron will know if the pruning has been successful, if the crop is looking to be a good one, and how much money he needs to find in his budget to finance the feed for the needs of his trees. Besides the soil here being different, another thing we’re not seeing much is shade trees. Herzon did feel he had a good number at Yadini, but they were nothing like we’re used to seeing, and certainly too few to be very effective in doing the job they’re supposed to. They also prune these trees from the bottom up, removing the branches that would be doing the shading best in the first place. A lot of these trees are not just grown for shade though, they also get used for timber when they reach a certain height, and so you might have to choose if you want to prioritize shade or the option of another income stream. I feel like there must be a compromise but hey, I don’t know anything about native Kenyan trees so can’t really suggest anything. In the nursery we come across the 10 000 Batian seedlings and young trees that are being planted here as well as being sold to neighbouring farms at 30KES/tree. As for other varietals Hezron has some knowledge of the K7, but other then slightly longer branches he considers it similar to the SLs and so not of any use in replanting here. Yield is obviously of key importance and some of the data from the Coffee Research Station in Ruiru show Batian to outperform Ruiru by 0.5 tonnes per hectare. They averaged about 1400kg pr hectare last year, and this year leveled at 2 tonnes/hectare. Pickers are paid 60 schilling per debe, a 20 liter bucket that holds about 14kg of cherry. These are tipped into collection tanks before the full days harvest is pulped, and dry fermented for about 10 hours. After going through the washing channels the parchment is soaked overnight to improve the colour of it, an argument I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind but somehow it has beneficial results on the cup so then I guess we’re all good. This soaking water is changed every 6 hours to avoid over fermentation, and the water is re-used to pulp the next day’s pickings. Once out of the soaking tanks the parchment needs to lose its skin water within a few hours to prevent rotting, and the total drying period would be 6-12 days; weather dependent. If the weather gets too hot they have the option of covering the beds with netting to prevent the parchment from cracking, but down here in Ruiru it’s so hot I’m sure they must struggle to shade it enough at times. Driving on to Thika we made a brief visit in to see Sustainable Management Services, who represented a few of the coffees we had last year and are doing some in depth and fascinating work out here. Julius and Charles were very good to see us even if we were an hour late, and still able to give us a great overview of the company structure so that we can cup with them back in Nairobi and have a better idea of how their chain of custody works. With their own dry mill just being finished off now they’ll have a fly crop to test all the logistics before the next full crop comes in, and people are expecting it to be as big as or even bigger than this year. We had a deadline to get to the Serena Mountain Lodge before the park gates closed so Zachary our driver spared no effort in getting us there on time, out of Thika (who refer to themselves as The Birmingham of Kenya!) as school children were being herded along by their teachers, people carrying or ferrying firewood on their bikes to cook dinner with, and taxi motorcycles with three people piled up, blasting music as they rode along grinning and having the best time with it. We hit Karatina at about 5pm, took the obligatory picture of Hotel Starbucks, and continued north to the Mount Kenya National Park. At 2195 masl we pullet up to a beautiful lodge hotel where we were to spend a night just surrounded by trees, animals, and a bunch of safari clad bird watchers. It’s pretty chilly up here so I declined the offer of being woken up in the night should any wildlife come down to the nearby waterhinghole, and after a lovely dinner I’m just pleased to have crawled into bed before nine to find a hot water bottle at the foot end.

Sumatra, January 2012: 3
Saturday, January 21, 2012 - 02:07 PM - 3 years, 4 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
Sumatra, January 2012: 3
THURSDAY The last day at Wahana started with a guided tour of the fields, having a closer look at the Andong Sari which is now in its 2nd year of producing. It’s a Javanese hybrid that have good yields there, but so far it looks like it bears a bit less fruit in the Sidikalang soil. It’s the only plot of Andong Sari in Sumatra so I’m curious to see if it’ll be on the cupping table tomorrow. They also took us to the 600 Costa Rican Caturra trees, who have yet to produce a significant crop after 4 years. I was quite excited to see 1250 Villa Sarchi trees as well, but these area also slow to produce, 4 years in and only a few cherries so far. If it cups well when it does mature, they will expand the lot, and they might prune the trees a bit next year as they’re looking a bit busy at the moment. The cherries I tasted were really sweet and quite fruity, so I’m excited to keep an eye on this one. All the different varietals here came from the Jember Research Centre in Java where the three Wahana agronomists have also received training. They’ve also been able to travel to Vietnam to learn about their coffee, and I hope at some point they’ll also be able to travel to Central America to see processing there. Education is high on the priority list at Wahana, they are in fact building a coffee school there this year where growers can come to learn about shade trees, nurseries, planting, pruning, cupping etc. The building will hold bedrooms and kitchens for those who will travel from afar, a cupping lab and a lecture hall, and be within walking distance of the mill as well as the different varietal plots. It will be free for the farmers to attend and they will be bussed in from local ares first, then they will look into inviting farmers from further afield. The government have promised to assist in spreading the offer as far as possible, and Wahana hope to be able to teach 3 day courses for 50 people at least once per week. The training modules will be taught by the agronomists on site, and a couple of international companies are assisting in developing comprehensive contents. All this will of course cost money to build and run, and they’re welcoming any donation towards the $220.000 building at first, and then funds to keep the program going. One of the urgent subject to cover is the importance of planting shade trees, as since illegal logging has taken out a lot of the natural shade forest raising the temperatures, the pesky coffee borer beetles have been spreading very fast. While some help has been offered to distribute methanol/ethanol traps for the beetles, the root of the problem needs to be fixed and for a few years the government have driven campaigns to make the areas around Lake Toba green again, replanting the trees that were logged with no consideration for the environmental impact. We head off to another farm where we later on get to see first hand another pest problem that Wahana hope to be able to find a solution for through their experiments and research. We meet with the farmer (he has 2 hectares himself) and collector Silalahi who gets cherry in from 7 groups of 30 farmers each, each of them with farms of about 10 hectares. He took us to the farm of Mr. Symbolan, who was in fine spirit in spite of his trees being affected by red stem borer, a larvae that eats its way from the ground up through the trunk of the tree, causing the stems and branches to wilt and/or break easily, and increases susceptibility to other pest and diseases. Young trees may die while older trees tend to survive, and there is no known chemical or biological cure at this time. Incidents tend to be less where there is good shade, and until preventative measures can be taken or a defense is found, infected trees should be taken up and burned. This was the last farm we got to visit so we headed north back to Medan and said goodbye to our very brave and skilled driver Johnson and his assistant Ronnie, who were super sweet and had both put on the tshirts I gave them earlier in the week! Tomorrow we visit the Sarimakmur dry mill and do some cupping which I can’t wait for. I’m really looking forward to tasting all the coffee I’ve been snapping pics of for the last few days, and have high hopes for some tasty beans! FRIDAY Last day doing coffee in Medan, tomorrow I return home. Today the trip went to Sarimakmurs mill in Medan, where their coffee is finished for export. We’re greeted by the owners Mr Suryo Pranoto, his wife Maria Gorethy and son and manager Andry, who poured us a cup of coffee, fed us Chinese New Years cookies (it’s not till Monday but Maria likes to start the cookies early) and explained more about the story of Sarimakmur. Having dealt in spices, cocoa and sweetpotato for many years, they only began trading in coffee in 1994, currently exporting 14.000 tons of coffee per year. They started roasting as Opal Coffee 15 years ago, also importing some coffee from other producing countries to diversify their blends. They opened a cafe in Sydney in 2010 and just three months ago they started the Opal Cafe in Medan, in the building that used to be the family home. In the middle of all this came Wahana, after the local government contacted Suryo to see if he would be interested in taking on the land to produce coffee. Other than a little bit of maize and cabbage there wasn’t much there, so they brought in agronomists from Jember to analyze the soil and climate to establish whether the area would be well suited for coffee. After positive reports they began clearing the land, leaving/planting shade trees where needed, and bringing in varietals to experiment with. The way they want to move growers away from delivering wet parchment to delivering cherry means that they have to spend a lot of time on the ground building relationships, and it limits them to focusing on one area at a time. Expansions are however in the pipeline, they already have one facility in Sulawesi and are currently planning a wet mill for cherry in Toraja. The quality of the Kalosi they saw last year as very disappointing and they wish to gain better control over the process there, as they have for example in Lintong and Sidikalang. The problems arose from bad weather conditions causing a very low yield, meaning the growers would pick even green cherry and somehow ferment it in order to make it soft enough for them to pulp- devestating the quality in the cup. Hendry our guide will be spending 9 months there this year to oversee developments, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they will create, as the ‘regular’ Kalosi from them was quite nice 3-4 years ago. East-Timor, Flores and maybe even China might be next, these guys certainly are ambitious but seem to genuinely care about quality and moving the industry to a better place. They currently have about 10.000 employees across all sectors, about 1000 of them located at the HQ where we’re visiting. After a long chat and exchanging of presents we went for a tour of the coffee warehouses, which were busy and in full production mode meaning we were able to have a good look at all the various stages. Except for the Wahana coffee, which is already density sorted in the Sidikalang mill, coffee starts off going through the density grader, continues on to the colour sorters (they can do 15 tons/hr) and through all the other various tubes and channels and sorters a dry mill contains. In a way many mills are all the same, but I really enjoyed the open, airy feel of this one, and the friendly vibe from the staff who were happy to chat and answer questions, and let me get very much in the way to take pictures. The ladies hand sorting had as much great fun watching and taking pictures of the pale, blonde visitor as I had taking pictures of them and trying my hand at sorting out the defects, the mood was really good and everyone was smiling and laughing, gossiping away over the tables. There were probably 6-700 women in that day by the conveyor belts and sorting tables, but in peak season there could be double that in a day over a couple of shifts. They get paid by the amount of defects they pick out of the green, 1 kg pays 500 rupiahs. Andry told me they start out with the greens from the mechanical sorters which only cleans the coffee up to about 25-30% defect, then depending on the grade they’re selling; single, double or triple-pick out anything down to zero defect which would be the requirement for roasters like us. Normally they do about 10-15 kg each in a day, but they could also do to up to 60 kg on a good day, perhaps if the coffees come in particularly rough looking! After a brief chat with head roaster Ian and a mutual understanding that of course Probats are the best, we went up to the lab for a cupping of the various Wahana varieties, something I’d looked forward to all week! Having spent 4 years in a lab myself I was pleased to see a bunch of girls rocking the room, between Arina, Yuanita, Dani and Ani they had the space set up pretty sweet, two sample roasters, an espresso machine, samples galore, and two great comfy tables to cup on. They cup here daily checking preship, landed and processing samples, and we were about to try 10 fairly young samples of Wahanas last harvest from Nov/Dec. Dianto, another of Suryo and Marias children and agronomist at Wahana, answered my queries about a sample of peaberries I found on the counter (you may remember my wistful hoeps for more Indo PB’s in the previous post). He actually told be that he prefers drinking the peas himself over other grades, but as they only account for about 6% of production they’re not currently worth separating out for export- although I hope that one day will change. (hint hint if you read this Dianto!) Equipped with cupping sheets we set about evaluating the coffees, and I thought I’d summarize briefly here what I found. I picked up a few samples to take back with me and I’ll make sure I get the rest sent over and hopefully I can put on a cupping of them all in London too, when they’re a bit more rested and I have more time to go in depth on the flavours. The coffees: Wahana Estate Washed: their ‘house blend’, super bright, crisp and clean, very nice ‘Indonesian’ character (which I think is important to preserve- all parts of the world shouldn’t taste the same!), herbal, cooled a bit rough but more due to young greens, not at all bad greens. Wahana Estate Pulped: very pleasant texture, clean and sweet, fruity notes and long aftertaste, plums and cherries. Liked this a lot! Wahana Estate Natural: watermelon, fruity as naturals are, quite a light texture, some indo character left underneath, might need a bit more rest of just a bit more cleaning to really shine, but great potential. Rasuna: this was the one they’re rolling out all over Wahana so I hoped it would be good, and it was quite ok. A little uneven perhaps but some fruity characters, slightly savoury and nicely textured. Very decent coffee, but nothing wildly charming. Jantung: probably my least favourite on the table an very much what many people unfortunately dismiss a lot of Indonesian coffee with: woody, rough and dry, some spicy notes but little sweetness and a lack of acidity. I was told this was a tricky one to roast and perhaps it could perform better under lighter circumstances, but I don’t feel the roast was noticeably too dark so my issues were with the bean itself. Andong Sari: ah the Andong Sari, the coffee I bought last year from its first harvest and couldn’t work out how to roast to be a coffee I’d want to sell. Annoyingly, or thankfully, I really enjoyed this 2nd harvest sample, it was round and clean and had some soft stonefruit, spice and chocolate to it. USDA: supposedly this is an Ethiopian line brought in by some Americans in the 50′s, but I found it to have little in common with Ethiopian coffee, perhaps a bit Harar-y if anything. A bit grainy, dry, with some tobacco and whisky, it was woody and while not directly unpleasant one of the only two on the table that I outright disliked. Costa Rica: I quite like this cup, some confusion over the samples means I don’t know which of the Costa Rican varietals it was but I found it to be clean, crisp and a bit floral, very nice indeed. Longberry: It didn’t blow my skirt up but everyone here raves about it, and I guess I can see that the boozy fruit and lush texture would be pleasing to many. I’d want to try this again in a couple of months on a slightly lighter roast perhaps, it just felt a bit closed off but I think it could grow on me. Toraja: This felt like the standard Indonesian coffee I’d expect, just cleaner! A bit generic perhaps but very inoffensive, full bodied and a bit spicy. Just ok. So in conclusion, I was really pleased to find a lot of the coffees to be much better than most things I’ve had from Indonesia, and to be very varied as I’d hope and expect. Will I try to buy any of these, like the Andong Sari, again? I’d love to but I don’t know. I would perhaps wait till grainpro or vacpacks become available as shipping options, as I think with Indo coffees, which I generally find to drop off very early after harvest, it’d give me the added confidence that nothing gets tainted or ruined in transit and storage or changed by too rapid water movements in the green. I’d also love to not have coffees machine dried, but weather and facility conditions here might not be suited for a lot of raised bed and patio. I hear Aceh has some raised beds tho, which is interesting. Leaving the mill we headed over to the newly opened Opal Cafe, and were greeted by manager Michael who made sure we were very well looked after by the lovely crew. I had to try the Wahana Wayag, a varietal I hadn’t heard mentioned till today- turns out there is so little of it they’ve decided to make it an Opal Cafe exclusive. Which is annoying, cause I was told it was an Ethiopian strain and the pourover I had Alfian make me, even if it was of the espresso roast and quite roasty with it, I could still tell it was yummy underneath! Perhaps if I twist someone’s arm I can get a sample across to try on a lighter roast… I also had the pleasure of chatting to Resi from the Indonesian Specialty Coffee Association, a young group that are working to raise awareness and the profile of Indonesian coffee both to their internal market and internationally. Having exhibited at the SCAA show for the last 5 years they will this year do their first show in Vienna, so I look forward to seeing her again there and to hopefully share with her any Sumatran or other Indonesian coffee I may have bought by then! So now I’m headed home full of impressions and a few fewer questions, and a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities for Indonesian coffee. Terima kashi to Hendry and Finn especially, growers, millers, hosts, fellow travellers, guides, drivers and animals big and small- it’s been a trip!

Ethiopia, November 2011: 4
Saturday, November 26, 2011 - 06:54 AM - 3 years, 5 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
SATURDAY Oh man, early mornings and me just don’t get on… 7am and heading back to Dilla to visit the Chelba washing station that we bought from a couple of years ago. Dile, our awesome grumpy driver with a heart of gold, and guide, agronomist and Q grader Addis Ababa (same as the city, means ‘new flower’ too, I found out!) patiently answered questions while dodging people, goats and donkeys wandering into the road. Some of the questions around the trace chemical causing problems when importing Ethiopian coffee to Japan were clarified a bit. Addis told me that a couple of years ago, the problems got to the point that Japan practically stopped buying Ethiopian coffee all together, and in order to resolve the situation the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture dispatched a team to test the soils, waters and other elements that could be to blame. The conclusion was that the likely contaminate was jute bags, since they get re-used for various purposes over periods of up to 10 years, the many functions they would have had was the reason why cross contamination was happening and coffee got traces of chemicals on them. No one can really tell me what they’ve done to fix the problem, so I might need to dig at that a bit more… Being an agronomist, he loosely touched upon some subjects regarding growing coffee that I need to pick his brain more on, like the establishment of new coffee research centers back in the mid-70’s aimed at solving the problems Ethiopia was seeing with coffee berry disease. Back then, coffee was 90% of Ethiopias exports, and of course any threats to the crop had to be avoided. They refined and mapped 3 different main structures of trees; like the open 75227, the compact 74110 or 74112 and the semi compact, 7454 being one. (Still not very romantic!) These 3 categories indicate how tall, wide and densely branched the trees look, and some will be more suited to certain climates than others. The 75227 would for example be a tall tree reaching 2.5 meters if allowed, branches spaced far apart allowing lots of sun onto the cherries, and producing medium quantities of coffee. I’m going to try and get some more facts and figures on this when back in town. Addis have done a lot of research into the changes the EXC has brought to coffee production and producers in Ethiopia, and is very pleased that now, farmers are getting paid maybe three times as much for their cherry as they used to – being more informed and savvy about what the C price is at and how the national and international markets are doing. I still need to sit down and work out what the birr/farsula of parchment-price at the ECX means in £/kg green, and what all the added costs of transport and fees break down to, and how that relates to what importers and roasters pay. If I was better at maths I probably wouldn’t feel so broken-headed by the complex systems and layers of the trade here, every time I think I’ve worked something out I speak to someone new who tells me I’m wrong or that I’ve not considered an element I didn’t even know existed. Everyone here is friendly and helpful, but sometimes it’s a bit like pulling teeth in that people might only tell you the minimum of information required, not offering up additional facts or figure that would explain discrepancies, things that seem out of context or downright unfeasible. To add to my confusion, it seems the government and the ECX likes to change or make new rules on a regular basis too, so keeping up with it all seems hard enough for those who are based here and see it every day. Driving long distances every day helps with digesting the information that comes in rapid fire every time we stop at a farm, a washing station or an exporter, but most of the time in the car I’m just captivated by the scenes flying past. The road from Addis to Yirgacheffe changes so much in character, from the endless industrial zones on the outskirts of Addis fading into the yellow fields of taf, the shimmering lakes between Ziway and Negele, the grassy plains leading up to the two mountains marking the start of Sidamo, and the climb up into ever more green and lush surroundings as coffee trees start to appear. Every now and then you can see a priest dressed in the most colourful cloak sat patiently by the road collecting money, but most of all it’s bustling with people pitched up to sell anything from gasoline to onions, chat to little carved chairs. Graves appear with regular intervals in the lowland (I say low but it’s still 1600 masl), where traditionally people are buried near their houses so their souls remain at home. They are often more like little monuments, richly decorated with pictures and words depicting the loved one. One particular grave that’s been catching my eye when I pass is one with a statue of an ox on one side, showing that the person resting here was a hard working farmer. On the other side of the headstone is a sculpture of a lion, speaking of his strength as a powerful man, and like all Ethiopians a very proud person. Next to piles of drying hay you’ll see cattle being walked around in circles, threshing the spread out layer of grains under their hooves. A little whirlwind was whisking up a column of dust next to the road out of Heki, a larger one creating a huge cloud of flying pieces of straw, with a little boy running around in the middle trying to catch them all. Draped over bushes and rocks you see colourful clothing and left out to dry in the scorching sun, mothers combing their daughters’ hair, boys playing tether-ball and football, girls skipping rope and kids with wheels and sticks doing what kids with wheels and sticks would be doing in any country. Donkeys roll around in the dusty ditches trying to scratch some itch, and up in the higher grounds you can see certain minerals in the red, exposed soil glimmer in the low sun like specks of silver. Smoke seeps out of the straw rooftops of the gojo bet traditional dwellings, and grown ups and kids alike carry their ubiquitous yellow water containers to the filling station and home. I now know that a good way of doing laundry is by placing a large banana leaf on the ground, your trousers on top, and scrubbing them with soap a brush till they can be rinsed in a stream. In front of some houses you’ll see a bowl or a cup, or pieces of yellow or pink cloth hung up on a frame signaling that this house will sell you home made meals and drinks, and herds of cattle take their baths in rivers, cooling off in the rushing waters while their owners rest in the shade. Another herd I’ve seen only sporadically is the camel herds of the Afar tribe, who are nomadic and move around on the lower plains. Covering an area of the countryside that is also well suited for growing sugar cane has recently brought with it some changes or opportunity for this tribe, as the government in a trade off for using some of the land for this new crop have given some infrastructure like irrigation and schools. The tribe have taken the project on as their own chance to control how they move with the times without loosing their identity. The irrigation for example means they can grow grass for their camels and move around less to find pasture, freeing up more land for uninterrupted sugar cane production. They now produce enough sugar here to cover national consumption and have some spare to export too. Stopping for lunch by the lovely Lake Awasa I got up close and personal with some very cheeky monkeys- I know James will be very jealous of this one! But finally, about 25 km south of Dilla we pulled off the road and through the Chelba washing station gates. As we parked up I suddenly felt like spending a bit less time looking at machinery and washing tanks that I normally do, and more time hanging out with the Chelba crew. So after many curious looks and smiles I pulled out my polaroid to help break the silence, resulting in a full on photo shoot where about 30 of the guys and girls crowded round to have their image captured and handed over. After that it was great to just wander around and having them show off how the structure there works, smell the difference in parchment with 1 day vs 6 days on the drying beds, take goofy pictures with Hussein the very handsome site manager and basically just relax as dusk fell, mist started coming in and the noise of the crickets took over from the machines and trucks. Also, I get to stay in the Get Smart Hotel in Dilla tonight, so that’s another box ticked off my Ethiopia checklist! Currently Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ is playing on the stereo and I’m having flashbacks to Bogota and Andres, very odd. SUNDAY Sunday morning bright and early we set off to meet the owner of a farm very close to our hears at Square Mile, Suke Quto, the one who grew the coffee John used to win the UKBC! Tesfaye had a meeting in Awasa so was not going to be able to meet us at the farm, so we met for breakfast in Dilla instead- and I was able to convey Johns gratitude for producing such lovely, award winning beans! Tesfaye grows his own coffee and works with 40 outgrowers who deliver to his washing station as well, exporting about 8 containers of coffee in a harvest. As with everyone else, work at the processing station has just begun as cherry is delayed by 1-2 months across the board. In Tesfayes case, the rains that fell in February kicking off the normal season was great, the trees were full of flowers and the harvest forecast was looking good. Then the expected March rains didn’t come, and almost all of April went by without any more showers too. By the time the rain came back the February flowers had already wilted and dropped. Confused but wired to reproduce, the trees produced a new flowering in early May, but it’s not as full as the first one and the crop is projected to be smaller than last year. This is of course a financial challenge, but Tesfaye hopes the market will allow for him to pay both his outgrowers and staff more money this year in spite of the reduced volume. With the combined skill of Tesfaye who holds a degree in Natural Resource Management, the beautifully set up mill and a team of skilled processors, quality should not suffer and I’m really looking forward to samples of the finished product. Tesfaye filled me in a bit on the history of Suke Quto, which is very much a labor of love for coffee but also the nature and landscape it grows within. The farm is named after a tree that grows in the local area, which is in the Shakiso district and also part of a huge gold mining- zone. Some years ago there was a massive forest fire that took out a the forest and any chance it might recover, so people started encroaching on the cleared land left behind they and began growing food crops. Tesfaye saw an opportunity to grow coffee in the fertile soil, but only a few people in the area knew anything about growing coffee and to start with he was met with some resistance. Taking it slow he began planting coffee along the borders of the encroachment area, 5 hectares at first but now it’s grown to 291 hectares. But preserving the natural forest is key for Tesfaye, and he says there are still more natural trees on the land than coffee trees. As he respectfully puts it: ‘Coffee is income, but trees are life”. The forests full of birds, monkeys and other wildlife, he’s happy to live in symbiosis with what was there first, laughing at the notion that he collects only the cherries that the birds couldn’t be bothered eating first! When Tesfaye started up he didn’t go to buy seedlings from any nursery growing one of the 26 varietals researched and developed by the government, he looked at the coffee trees that were in the area already and chose the healthiest, highest yielding ones to collect seeds from. This is still how he works, and right now he has a separate nursery site where 150 000 seedlings are maturing, ready to be divided up and planted on his own farm as well as the farms of the outgrowers. He has plans to convert some steep slopes on his land from shrubs and low tree growth to coffee, slopes which form two sides of a valley, and he’s interested to see what difference in taste he will get depending on whether the coffee trees get the sun in the morning or in the afternoon. Coffee grown here will help bind the soil and keep erosion at bay while at the same time increasing his production capacity, hopefully preserving both the future of the land and the future of his family. With a baby on the way in March, there might soon be someone to help carry on that way of thinking. I’m really pleased I go the chance to meet with him this morning, and after all that I was really looking forward to seeing the place for myself. The drive to the washing station was going to be a good few hours on bumpy roads, so we planned to meet for a cupping in Addis on Saturday and set off in each our direction. The road to Suke Quto, moving you from the Gedeo to the Guji zone, must be one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful areas on the world. Thinking back to Harar I might as well have been on a different planet, the land here so green and fertile, and mist drifting in through the valleys casting a dream-like veil over the forests. As we climbed to 2100 masl we passed through villages teeming with life, one where an ongoing livestock market meant every adult and child along the road was walking, coercing or chasing animals of all sizes trying to get them to move in the right direction. Here where the land can support them, I’ve been seeing a lot more cows and horses than goats and donkeys, and heading towards Uraga the land turned from dense forest to arable land, neatly divided into plots of pasture weaving soft patterns along the hillsides. Here life seemed to trundle along much as it does most places on a Sunday, women gossiping over the lattice fencing, young sweethearts shyly letting go of each others hands as we got near, ladies riding along on their horses protecting themselves from the sun with umbrellas, toddlers caring for and playing with their baby brothers and sisters, groups of girls braiding each others hair. I find myself thinking of my grandma, who grew up on a farm and married a farmer, never left the country and probably never even had a conversation with an African, Asian or Latin-American person. I think she would have enjoyed it, and I wish she was still around to hear about the places that her granddaughter is able to go to now. Anyway, it seemed we drove for hours but all of a sudden we rounded a corner and there was the mill! While this time last year the beds were full of parchment, only a few of them are now in use, and only to dry full cherry. With a few early pickings coming in only in drips and drabs it’s not yet worthwhile cranking up the whole washing station, but Tesfaye expected it to only be a matter of weeks till the pulpers are up and running. Addis Alem who had driven with us from Dilla and up here put on an impromptu coffee ceremony for us, a lovely surprise and very idyllic sat in the shed covering the receiving tank. The green coffee, hand washed to remove all silverskin, was thrown on a hot pan and roasted, the beans crushed in a mortar and coffee and water poured into a traditional spouted jar called jebena to steep. Once the grounds had settled she poured us the first round, the abol, the strongest and grittiest brew. You normally drink three rounds, adding more hot water but not more coffee to the jar ad you go, so that the second round is the medium most balanced one, and the third is thin and quite weak. Pulling out my polaroid I was really pleased to be able to take a picture of everyone there that day, especially Addis Alem as she is pregnant with her fourth and looking rather radiant! But we wanted to see the Suke Quto nursery before dark and only managed the one round of coffee before we had to leave. Via Wonago and Shakiso city which was heaving with people, music and the smell of coffee roasting, we made our way into a clearing in the forest where the seedlings are kept, near to the three things you need for a good nursery: access to infrastructure, a permanent water source and well drained loamy topsoil. Having a nursery at all is not feasible for all growers, so they might be better off buying in some young trees from the government. But here, rolls of mixed red earth sand and compost were piled up ready to be planted into, the seeds having been dried gently in the shade to preserve the integrity of the parchment. Placed in a roll of soil at about 1.5 cm deep, the seeds germinate after about 45 days, first coming up as ‘soldiers’ – the tap root lifting the parchment up out of the earth before breaking it off and progressing to the butterfly stage of the cotyledons. It will take about 8 months before the seedlings are ready to be planted out in the field, so while still growing into their target 8 pairs of leaves, what looked like 6 month old plants were placed snugly in row after row, under covers of straw to protect them from the strong sun. The cover will occasionally be removed for some periods of time to toughen the plants up readying them for their permanent position in the farm. Ready to see the forest where this coffee comes from, we drove via Giroosari to the outskirts of Suke Quto farm at 2000 masl. With the last rain having fallen about a week ago the ground was dry on the surface but the trees looked healthy, this section still in green cherry but other parts nearing ripe. The roughly 7 year old, 3m tall trees were sat in among quite a dense forest, with soft, springy soil telling of the deep layer of nutrients available. Farm manager Zarihun Admasu was on hand to explain more about how they might prune or stump when required and how they plant the young trees in their permanent locations. I’m really pleased I’ve been able to see the three parts of Suke Quto and have a greater understanding of how it all comes together, and I’m excited to see samples when they’re ready in a few months. Leaving Suke Quto behind we drove the short distance to a neighbouring farm where we were going to spend the night. Located on a slope leading up form a small river, it’s a very idyllic setting, but just across the river they were actually digging for gold, this land being valuable for more than just coffee. Owner Haile gave us a warm welcome and had a huge late lunch spread ready for us, so putting the farm visit aside for tomorrow we were treated to a coffee ceremony performed by one of his seven daughters. I had a go at the roasting portion myself, but left the call on when it was done to her- roasting over coal is not my specialty! A big barbecue was then set alight and while the bed of coal grew ever hotter, everyone sat around having a drink and a good catch up. Ever the animal lover I found Tuk Tuk the dog so spent a fair bit of time scratching him behind his ears, until the fire was ready to start roasting the goat that had been slaughtered for our dinner. Over chunks of sweet, tender meat we talked football, gold, hair braiding techniques, Ethiopian dancing and practiced how to count in each others languages. For once conversation wasn’t all about coffee! Finishing the meal with a bowl of delicious soup I felt I might end up asleep in my chair, so I’ve settled into my sleeping bag on the camping beds that they kindly set up for our comfort. I think I’m going to be out like a light any minute now so – till tomorrow! MONDAY Woken up by the sound of kitten paws scratching around on the floor, it all felt very much like home! Walking out in to the cool morning air and getting wet shoes from the dewy grass between drying beds: definitely not anything like home. While waiting for the rest of the household to wake up I picked some cherries off a tree next to the house and had a great demonstration of what can happen when a tree is stressed out and off balance by growing in less than ideal soil: off the same branch I got a regular cherry with two seeds, a single peaberry and also a triple seeded cherry. Haile told me the triple was very unusual and a sign of good luck, so I’m smuggling this one home to plant it it- all my former attempts of starting a coffee plantation on my windowsill have so far failed so maybe this will be my breakthrough! The farm tour began with an overview of the coffee growing area. According to Haile, he can identify three different taste profiles from the trees on his land, a Yirga Cheffe quality in the western part, a Sidamo cup from the north slopes, and a Harar-like taste in the eastern fields. He attributes this phenomenon to the fact that his land is under a migratory route for birds, who might be picking up varietals from these areas and dropping them along their path. Having owned this 320 hectare farm for 9 years and keen to find out exactly what he is working with, he’s identified 5 core varietals that grow here and is currently exploring their individual characteristics with a view to intensify production of the best ones. In the forest, he has a stock of 360 mother trees that provide seeds for the nursery on site, and as we walked through the covered rows of young plants I was very honoured to be invited to plant two coffee trees myself. I planted them along one of the rows so that in the future they can help to produce shade for the seedlings, and if I come back in a couple of years my little trees might be full of cherry themselves! Heading over to some the newly constructed eucalyptus drying beds, the passion for his work coming through in Haile’s word were really great to hear, with his two main philosophies of satisfaction for the consumers and protection of the environment being at the core. Carrying on maintaining and building relationships through trust, integrity and two-way communication is what this man sees as the only way to do business. A short drive to the top of the northern slopes had us on the edge of the 200 meter buffer zone surrounding the coffee trees, providing protection from the dusty roads but also acting as little natural reserve corridors for plants and animals. Even beyond this buffer zone of trees there are still about 200 tall and medium sized non-coffee trees per hectare, providing shade of different intensities and giving options for photosynthesis management throughout the season. Haile explained how they work the topsoil and undergrowth in rhythm with the rain to maximise the water retention, and as rain is expected very shortly we came across one of the field teams in full swing cutting clearings around each tree to give the rain access to the roots. The cuttings are left to compost and add nutrients back into the ground, completing the cycle. Back in Dilla tonight, an early night for me as the lack of sleep traveling is starting to take it’s toll. The next few days will be a marathon of co-ops, which I’m looking forward to but want to be rested for! TUESDAY The first stop this morning was the Negele Gorbito co-op, which is under the Oromia Union and situated at about 2000 masl, 30 bumpy minutes off the main road. Aiele the representative from the Oromia Union and Musrat the co-op manager gave us a warm welcome and shows us around the site where this year, 1094 members will deliver their cherry. The size of farms that these mebers have are bout 1-2 hectares, so a fair amount of land that last year, in a low production year and then with only 904 members, provided 5-6 export containers. This season they’ve been receiving cherry for 3 weeks, and so far 30 000 kg’s have been bought at 15 birr/kg. They’re gearing up to be able to process 1.5 million kg’s washed and 500 000 kg’s sun dried this year, easily tripling last year’s output. Walking down to the tanks the gentleman raking the parchment explained how he could tell by the sound if there was still mucilage left on the cover, and whether it was time to rinse and post-soak. Grabbing a quick cup of coffee and a picture with a dapper looking chap in a traditional shawl, it was time to say goodbye and we headed to co-op two for the day; Homa. Homa is another co-op under the Oromia Union and headed up by young manager Takele Tardesse. With 789 members it’a a smaller co-op who have suffered from some mismanagement in the past, but are now headed for brighter more stable days and hope to near double the output of last year, to 1 million kg cherry. Member farms range in size from 1.75 to 6 hectares, forming a total of 3450 hectares coffee growing land. Traditionally they’ve only done washed coffee here but this year the’ve planned to do 400 000 kg sun dried too, experimenting with ways to expand and maximise the potential of the production. They have 73 raised beds but will build more to accommodate both the volume increase overall as well as the longer drying time needed for the naturals. So far this season the average price paid per kg has been 14 birr/kg, and compared to the full season average of 8.86 birr/kg from last year, it says something about how high even internal prices are, not to mention the end price for roasters and consumers. A nice thing we saw here was an element of pre-sorting; as members bring their baskets or bags of cherry in they are poured on to wenfit screens and divided into ripe and unripe before going on to the receiving tanks. Only the ripe cherries are purchased by the co-op, while the unripes might go back with the grower for home use. One of the members here, Ture Dembe, took us on a short walk from the co-op to his 1.5 hectare plot, where trees full of ripe cherry spoke of the happy days ahead for him in selling his production! As visits took longer than planned and clouds gathered the hope of seeing 5 co-ops today started looking slim. If it started to rain we’d have problems on the steep dirt roads, so we decided to get just one more done and set off towards Hafursa. They are under the header of the Yirgacheffee Union, and have 1038 members. Last year they did 547 000 kg cherry but are projecting for 900 000 kg this season. Since opening 10 days ago they’ve done 6000 kg, but for now they’re only doing sun drieds. In a few days they hope supply is steady and high enough to warrant cranking up the pulper, and by the time they hit peak season they want to be doing 30 000 kg each day. As opposed to the concrete receiving tanks I’ve seen so far, Hafursa has a metal version, very smart looking but best of all easy to clean. With pre-sorting for only the ripest cherries in place and a Pinhalense demucilager to process them, this place also has the advantage of being able to skip the 36 hour fermentation soak going straight into a wash and 12 hr rinse. Members can deliver straight to this mill but Hafursa actually have 5 stations in their areas where people can deliver to, also here currently at an average price of 15 birr/kg. No one can quite tell me if this price will stay this high. As cherry comes in in higher volumes it could decline but prices last year, even if lower overall, increased throughout he season. This being a better crop year might keep that from happening, but things for now seem a bit uncertain. As we headed back to Dilla a few drops of rain threatened, but since it stayed dry in the end we went for a meal of tibs at a newly opened restaurant down the road from the hotel, bumping into the only resident American in town. 24 year old Matt is here for 2 years teaching English, and was able to fill us in on life in Dilla from a local’s perspective. Tipping us off that the rooftop of the restaurant was actually a nightclub, we decided to turn a Tuesday school night into disco-time, being the only people up there besides the DJ no hindrance for a bit of bad bopping around and lots of laughs. Last night I slept on a coffee farm, tonight I danced to Ethiopian reggae on a roof terrace. It ain’t all bad being in coffee, even if you end up staying in some pretty rough hotels out here in the countryside. Just now as I was typing waiting for my hair to dry after a long awaited shower, a little cockroach crawled through my fringe past my eyes… I do not know how he ended up in my hair but I sure know that he’s now flat under a shoe. My animal loving nature sadly doesn’t stretch to this sort of up close and personal with creepy crawlies!

Ethiopia, November 2011: 3
Friday, November 18, 2011 - 10:10 PM - 3 years, 6 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
FRIDAY A rare chance to sleep in wasn’t exploited as I woke at 7am ready for more coffee! Hopping in a taxi and handing my phone with Mike at the other end to the driver, we made our way to Moplaco’s Addis HQ and were greeted by office manager Girma. He took us through to the cupping lab where lab technician Hannah fired up the sample roaster, while her assistant Gante helped me set up the bowls for cupping some coffee I brought with. Hannah chose a Washed Yirga Cheffe PB for us to taste (peaberries and screen 13 down), I asked to try the Lekempti, and a couple of roasts later we had a table of El Salvador and Ethiopia to compare. The PB, even at the tail end of the crop, was classically Yirga Cheffe-ian in aroma and flavour, with bergamot, lime and spice, while the Lekempti sadly was a bit nutty, dry and popcorn-like. Hannah found the Kilimanjaro Pulped to be very citrusy and not so much to her liking, but really enjoyed the Natural with its fruit, berries and sweetness. Running a bit behind schedule we had a quick tour of their warehouse, a massive, pristinely clean, tidy and well organized space where coffee first goes through a rough sorting for metal, sticks and other foreign matter, a destoner, a polisher, density sorters and optical colour sorting before being passed on to the hand sorters. The colour sorter worked fast, each of the 18 lenses were currently set to check 3 kgs of beans per minute, blowing the off coloured ones out of the stream of beans with a precisely targeted jet of air. Still, a finishing round of hand sorting adds a human element to the process that can’t be underestimated, and this warehouse employs 350 women during peak for this last and final quality control. The second stop in the day was in many ways the core of what I came her to learn about, the auction rooms at the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. On the outside of the building are mounted large screens which show the live update prices of the coffees that were being bought and sold inside. Trader Dagem Tadesse was on hand to guide us through the process, starting with getting us through security who were not too pleased to see my camera! But once allowed in, we took our seats behind the glass wall of the viewing room to watch the action on the floor. I did manage to sneak some (very bad)pictures of it all on my cellphone, so I might try to get that up here a bit later. Even the lowest grades of coffees are traded at the ECX, but only sold for internal consumption. Any coffee staying for the local market is traded in the morning, while the export lots are traded between 2p and 5pm. They are handled by area, so the Limus all get processed in one round, then they do the Sidamos, then the Yirgacheffes and so on (not necessarily in that order!). Due to it being Friday and many people having church that morning, when we arrived just after 2pm they were also doing some rescheduled internal coffee. So the scene of the ECX is an octagonal sunken floor with large screens on the wall opposite where we’re sat watching through the glass. One screen lists the ‘reference markets’, which for coffee was the New York C price for March deliveries, at 237.5 cents/lb. A ‘change’ value of 0.55 indicated the increase in the unit price since the trading started at 2pm. Another screen listed the type of coffee being traded in each session, and as we arrived they were on Unwashed Local By Product Coffee. The symbol/code for one of the lots on offer was a 3LUBP3 AA, signifying that it was a rather anonymous lot from crop year 2003 by the Ethiopian calendar Local Unwashed By Product quality 3, stored in the Addis Ababa warehouse. Later on we moved on to some export lots, and one of the first new crop lots I’ve seen, a very early Limu. The code for this was 4WLMA3 JM, meaning 2004 Washed LiMu A grade 3 JiMmah warehouse. Make sense? Also listed next to this was the ‘Last’ price: 1340 which is what this type of coffee closed at yesterday, and the ‘Range’ set for trading today: 1340 +/- 5%, so 1273-1407. I haven’t fully done the maths and confirmed it but I believe that the 1340 is birr per farsula, which is 17 kgs. Bare with me, I’ll double check this asap. So with the offers and price ranges listed the sellers of the lots on screen gather in the sunken octagon with any interested buyers. While there could be just one seller and one buyer there is usually several of each, and often more of one than the other. If you are a seller you wear a green coat, if you’re buying for the local market you wear a blue one, and if you’re buying for export you’re in khaki- all jackets printed with identifying numbers on the back- sort of like football shirts! At the sound of a bell 10 minutes to complete business starts on the clock. Pace, alertness and skill is of the essence, as negotiations between the parties may start slow but finish quick, and it seemed fascinatingly chaotic to me as an onlooker. There is much shouting, shaking of heads, uninterested glances and cheeky grins to see as they walk around each other fishing to see who might bite. The body language is great to watch, from the ‘I don’t need your money’ glare to the corresponding ‘I don’t need your coffee’ pose. But if a sale is close, the seller and buyer will both raise a hand and if they agree, they’ll do a little high-five to seal the deal and I find myself cheering them on in my head to get to that high-five before the end of the 10 minutes. Sometimes nothing got sold, sometimes one buyer would high-five 3 sellers in quick succession in the very last seconds. The parties then approach a window where they fill in each their slip of paper identifying them by their personal coat numbers, coffee and price details and pass them to the clerk for entering into the computer. The clerk checks that the buyer has enough money deposited to complete the purchase, approves it, and the bank transaction immediately sets the money in movement to the sellers account. They have the security of knowing that with this system, the money will pretty much be in their possession at 2pm in trade+1 day, while buyers need to plan their budget for possibly being out of pocket on a coffee for up to 3 months before they sell it on and get paid by buyers and roasters in importing countries. A nice surprise was to see Haileselassie knocking on the glass and waiving to us, wearing his khaki coat ready to buy some beans. He wasn’t too happy with the prices he got offered so no luck today, but I was lucky and got a quick photo with him- safely off the floor so the guards didn’t confiscate the camera! The second stop of the day was the offices of Ambasa, where we had the pleasure of meeting with the wonderfully charming chairman Mr. Geoffrey Wetherell, who came to Ethiopia for the first time during the war in 1941 and liked it so much he returned with his wife 6 years later and set up a coffee business. General Manager Degu Assefa took us to the cupping room to present to us some of the coffees they have been working with in the last year, and again the grade 2 Yirga Cheffe, even this late in its season, reminded me of how much I miss the bergamoty yirgs that seem so few and far in between these days. Also a Q grader, Dagem felt that while he trusts in the judgement of the graders of the EXC he wondered if they were sometimes too strict, as finding coffees graded as ‘1’s is becoming harder and increasingly rare. When it comes to shipping, these small quantities of grade 1’s are sadly often blended in with grade 2’s in order to fill the container with something that can be sold as Grade 2 and still specialty- but which really is an average of the higher and lower end of that spectrum. A whirlwind tour of the warehouse before they shut for the day showed me how much history is in this company, beautifully maintained old stone and wood buildings, vintage equipment preserved next to more modern versions and archives of museum-worthy items documenting decades in the Ethiopian coffee industry. Slightly further out of town Ambasa do have a newer warehouse that opens in the peak season to take some of the load off the old facility, a massive state of the art building where Pinhalense machines were poised and ready for the busy season to start in a couple of months. Site manager Conor will then be in charge of a huge crew, so I told him to enjoy the calm before the storm, and to go tend to the coffee tree in the courtyard whenever he tires of the chattering of the 250 women needed just to handsort the already near perfect coffee in a final clean before export! Tomorrow I head south again and will probably be offline for a week, so lucky you- no more longwinded post for a bit!

Ethiopia, November 2011: 2
Friday, November 18, 2011 - 08:00 AM - 3 years, 6 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
Ethiopia, November 2011: 2
(Warning, long post! Internet is a bit of a headache but I’ll continue to add pics and video when I can!) TUESDAY 6 am and back in the car headed for Yirga Cheffe town guided by Mike from Moplaco, who is bravely facing the 9 hour drive south into the Sidamo region. Drive for 9 hours in Ethiopia and you sure get to see some stark contrasts. You pull out onto the road in Addis and in between the lorries the motorcycles and the Tuk Tuks you also get flocks of goats and cattle being herded through the roundabouts, and horses and donkeys pulling carts piled high with wares headed to market. One of the first sights leaving Addis is the Eastern Industrial Zone. As part of their free trade agreement an enormous compound has been given to the Chinese by the Ethiopian government so they can build 122 factories and housing for employees. While disastrous for local factories, it would also create thousands of new jobs, and the impact this all has on the local economy is profound. Slightly further south, a Chinese owned cement factory recently spewed out enough polluting fumes to close down the local, rather large poultry farm, causing the cost of an egg in Addis to go from 0.8 birr to 2.5 birr. Side by side with these factories, people are scattered in fields, hunched over in the sun cutting the injera base-grain tef with large knives, gathering the harvest by hand and piling it up to dry. A constant stream of people walking, walking, walking, toddlers playing on the roadside and animals wandering all over grazing on whatever they find. The traffic on roads both big and small is busy and chaotic, but even with passing two severe car accidents, some wild pig road kill and seeing some goats knocked over by a truck (they were ok in the end!), I still was happier in the car than I was being told my plane was having ‘mechanical problems’. Mike did some great driving and the landscape is just so fascinating to watch, I never tire of it. Just around Debre Zeyit town and it’s seven surrounding volcanic lakes, we hit the famous Rift Valley. At Mojo we took the exit south towards Shashemene, and passing Lake K’ok’a an interesting discussion about how the growth in the flower farming industry might be influencing coffee came up. Recently more and more Ethiopian coffee has been showing traces of chemicals in them, in spite of the fact that farms here can’t afford to use chemicals to fertilize or control pests and are by default organic. One of the causes could be that rose farms like the ones near Lake K’ok’a do use chemicals (a lot, you can almost smell it in the air) and that these wash out into the rivers leading off the lake into coffee growing regions. Another possible cause could be that as the health authorities spray houses for Malaria, any coffee which might be drying or in storage inside the houses also get sprayed and thus get flagged when we test for contaminates. Passing through Ziway we decided to pull off the road at Lake Langamo for a quick coffee and some breakfast, much needed as the early start and 34 degrees C at 9:30 am was starting to cause a bit a drowsiness at least on my part. Refuelled it was onwards through the cute little town of Negele where I suddenly noticed what was to become a common sight as we went on: lots of roadside pingpong and foosball tables – I kinda wanted to pull over for a game but we had to rush on! At about 2000 masl the landscape started becoming a lot more green and lush, such a contrast to dry, dusty Harar, and the vegetation changed in, well, many ways. Hitting Shashemene Mike explained that this was the spiritual home of Rastafarians in Ethiopia- emperor Haile Selassie was a holy person for Rastafarians in Jamaica and so many made the pilgrimage to the emperors palace in this little town. Many were given land and settled, and in between their rasta history museum and pictures of Bob Marley you could certainly smell the distinct aroma of another rastafarian influence. Seems that if you feel like indulging in something other than chat, Shashemene is the place to go! Kids will freely com up and offer you ‘medicine’ in code names like ‘marlboro’ or ‘marlboro light’ – depending on your level of expertise. We briefly paused just outside Awasa, the capital of Sidamo, to have a cup of coffee with Phil and Ed from Schluter who just so happened to be accompanied by Mr. Haileselassie Ambaye, the man behind our Kebado Dara! He’s been in coffee for close to 20 years, in the local market selling coffee to the akrabis (the owners of the washing stations, here in Yirgacheffe also called suppliers), as an akrabi himself, and for the last 6 years also working as an exporter. He now has 18 people working in his office, is building a new dry mill and is investing in new trucks for transport, so I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes from here. Heading out of Awasa, the road led through a mountain pass that marked the beginning of Southern Ethiopia and our destination; the coffee lands of Sidamo. With the changes in global climate conditions, rains came late this year and at unfortunate times, so while the washing stations here are normally in full swing in November, this year they’re either completely quiet or just starting on the first pickings. The rains that came late essentially knocked a large portion of the flowers off the trees, cutting cherry development in Sidamo by around 20% of expected levels. Around Yirga Cheffe specifically they might do a bit better, but it’s just another hurdle that the growers here don’t need. Many are turning to growing chat for chewing or eucalyptus trees to produce trunks for the construction of houses, which depletes the soil of nutrients that the coffee trees sorely need, further complicating the matter. In order to help the situation, the Ministry of Agriculture have for the last 5 years been encouraging people in Yirga Cheffe to plant more trees, especially of natural, local hybrids like Curume but also Dega, Woolisho and ones developed by the University Research Centre in Djimmah: 74158, 74114 and 74110. Not the most romantic names but they were developed to suit this Gedeo tribe area specifically and give higher yields. A fairly reasonable price of 10 birrs will buy you 6-7 coffee plants, but only time will tell if this will help turn the trend. As we slowly climbed higher into Sidamo, we started seeing a lot of small garden farms along the road, and reaching Yirga’ Alem (I’m told it means something like ‘holy land of the world’ while Yirga Ch’efe means ‘holy land of wet grass) discussion turned to how these tiny producers get their coffee sold. In a system slightly different to Harar, the coffees here are often collected by people called brokers, who are either sent out by akrabis to collect certain coffee or who collect their own selection and sell the cherries on to the akrabis. Growers can sell direct to the washing station, but where they don’t you’ll see the brokers going from house to house with a collection bag and a measuring bowl for the cherries. Currently the internal market is very high, and 1kg of red cherry would collect about 13-16 birr in Yirgacheffe. You’d need about 6 kgs of cherry to make 1 kg of green coffee. The price that these growers get is not governed by the ECX, so it is up to the brokers and washing stations to set this price. However, the EXC controls how much the washing stations get for their coffee, so if the margins become too tight there- problems will ensue. The concern is that this would return the full control of how much growers are paid back to the government- not a desirable prospect for many. Just outside of Dila we briefly left Sidamo and drove through a tiny sliver of Oromian land, signified by two control posts about a 3 minute drive apart. Oromia and their tribe is the largest grouping in Ethiopia, and there is movement towards their wanting a possible separation from the rest of the country. While the smaller Amharic tribe speak the official language of the country, in Oromia many schools have now stopped teaching Amharic to the children, further deepening the divide between the two tribal cultures. In Dilla, the capital of Yirga Cheffe Gedeo area, we passed by the warehouse where the EXC store their Yirga Cheffe coffees (the Sidamos are kept in the Awasa warehouse where we’ll go on Thursday) Along the roadside piles of waste pulp from local washing stations started appearing, brought there as free fertilizer for the farmers. These piles quickly become a bit funky, so I was grateful to also start smelling lovely wafts of coffee roasting from many of the houses. Finally, after 9 hours and 15 minutes we arrived in Yirga Cheffe. At the Moplaco warehouse in Adame I picked up a bag of parchment so I can try making Hoja, I have no great hopes that it’ll be very tasty but at least it’ll be an experience! More details on how the ECX works when it comes to dealing with washed coffees as opposed to sun dried had to be clarified, so a round of questions were thrown at the very patient Mike. From what I gather, the suppliers once in possession of the red cherries will pulp them, soak them for the neccessary time to ferment the pulp off, then rinse, maybe re-soak, and spread the pergamino out to dry. Drying takes an average of about 7 days, and at the correct export level of humidity and ready to sell to the ECX it is bagged into 60 kg bags, still in pergamino. Like in Harar, the lot size that will go to the ECX has to be 30 of these bags. A washing station that qualifies to be a co-op (min.18 members and 30 hectares of land) can sell direct to an international buyer but to sell to an ethiopian exporter they have to go via the ECX. We also ran into Mr. Ferenju Defar, one of the most successful coffee producers in Yirga Cheffe and owner of 5 washing stations. He fills about 17 trucks of coffee in a season, and makes about 270 000 birr on each of them. He has been speculating a bit and was worried about losing money this year, as prices have been unstable. 6 months ago and still today, internal prices for coffee are high, in part due to the high demand and the late harvest. Many also wish to pay good money so they can ensure a steady supply from growers and brokers, and pay their staff well so that they will be loyal and form an efficient, solid crew. The akrabis pay good money thinking they’ll sell it on at a higher price still, but the (unrelated) prices at the exchange (who base their prices on where NY is at and what the previous day’s prices were like) and the international market have dropped, and many akrabis are facing a situation where they might have to sell their coffees for less than what they paid for it. A day in the coffee harvesting season here usually runs something like this: cherries are picked in the morning to early afternoon, brokers collect them in the late afternoon, deliveries to the washing stations take place just before dark and pulping happens at night. As the crop is late, what we saw was the very early pickings in such small quantities that many growers instead of selling fresh cherry off to be washed, were sun drying the coffee themselves on mats in their front yards. They get a better price for the dried cherry as there is added value in some of the processing work already being done, but it’s also a risk for the brokers to buy these as the quality of the cherry is much harder to determine. It felt like time to see one of these washing stations in action, and although early in the harvest we found that one of the Yirga Cheffe stations belonging to Alemau Birhano had started processing. He has six stations, some of them also in Sidamo. We arrived at dusk, just in time to find a team of ladies finishing the hand picking of parchment on the drying tables, sorting out the damaged, crushed and pinched beans caused by a pulper adjusted to a ‘less than ideal medium’ setting for an early harvest consisting of great variation in bean size. Singing as they worked, it was quite the sight. (video to come!) They expect to do about 30 trucks of 120-150 bags each out of this station in the coming harvest. As the sun set, we returned to the hotel for dinner and to wait for 9pm when we would head back and watch the pulping of the morning’s harvest. Alemayu Birhano is different from many washing stations in that it uses underground water pumped up from a well to wash the coffee, rather than water from the river. We watched as the bags of cherry from one broker was lifted off the lorry to be weighed and loaded into the holding tank. From there the cherries passed through a pulper, got floated and separated into Grades 1, 2 and 3, and channeled off into three separate fermentation tanks. There they will stay for about 36 hours before being channeled on and rinsed clean of the pulpy remnants, before going into another tank for a final 16 hour rinse. In the darkness with the fog and two or three lamp posts casting a golden haze over the scene, I have to say it was quite magical to watch the crew work, to smell the pulp and hear them shouting instructions over the noise from the machines and rushing of water. Cameras never do this sort of thing justice and certainly not when placed in my hands, but I tried to capture some of the scene and will add images soon! Tomorrow we drive to Sidamo. I can barely cope with all the impressions from today so I’m bracing myself and charging every battery I have for some serious documentation. Other than that, I fed a hungry kitten today and took some polaroids of cute kids, and the starry night sky here is blowing my mind. WEDNESDAY Between the disco ending at 1 am and the chanting from the churches starting at 5am, sleep at Lesiwoth – the only hotel in Yirga Cheffe – proved a challenge for this light sleeper. But as they’re currently building the town’s second hotel just down the road, next time I’m here perhaps I’ll have more luck! Nevertheless, starting the morning with an aeropress of Kilimanjaro Pulped cures all gruff! Sitting on the next table over and watching the brewing process with some amusement happened to be Mr. Dakola, another local akrabi who owns several washing stations through Yirga Cheffe and Sidamo. He and his colleague Emnete had a taste of my brew and noted that the coffee had a distinct wine quality to it, so we had a nice chat about varietals and soils and their influence on cup quality. However the conversation again turned to the ECX. They asked me if I knew why the EXC sometimes go through the whole grading and cupping selection twice for one lot, apparently often resulting in a downgrading of their initial findings. I did not know anything about this but I’m curious if I can find out if this is true and if it is; the reasoning behind it. The Ministry of Agriculture has been known to openly acknowledge that they have no interest in specialty coffee as it’s such a small part of the total coffee trade, while simultaneously keeping certain doors open for the marketing and export of it. Still, the more people I speak to the clearer it is that there is a feeling amongst some suppliers that they are actively being discouraged from producing specialty, and not always without underhanded methods. I look forward to finding out more sides to the story when I actually see the EXC in action and get to speak to some representatives later on this week. It became time to set off towards Kochere and the lovely little town of Chelelektu. The nearby river Abays recently flooded here and the roads were impressively chewed up because of it, but we made it to a mill where Tesfaye the groundsman and manager Malesa gave us a a quick little tour. Next to the mill is a small coffee plantation where we were able to see another challenge posed by changes in the climate: the trees were being hit by coffee berry disease and turning black on the branch. I also learned that the cutoff point from where garden coffee is considered more as plantation coffee is around 10 hectares, still with some consideration for whether the production of cherry is more haphazard or purposeful. Just nearby we found two lovely ladies (pic to come) drying cherry on beds, and while the little girl at first started crying at the sight of us, she was brave enough to have her picture taken once her mother came to the rescue! For the most part kids run after us smiling waiving and shouting ‘youyouyou’ and ‘ferenj’ (white person), while grown ups look at us with some bemusement when we stop the car to take pictures of trees, goats, signs – anything really, so tears from the little girl was a bit worrying! I’m traveling with a polaroid and try to give a print back to those who kindly pose for me, so I hope the one I took of them and handed over as a thank-you at least made her think we weren’t all that scary after all. Back north through Fishagenet and Konga, passing rivers where trucks, tuktuks and motorcycles were parked along the bank and given their wash and shine, past hillsides dotted with washing stations, we eventually hit Yirgalem and its Ministry of Agriculture offices. A representative joined us for a trip to see where the coffee collected by farmers and brokers is brought to the akrabis for sale. There are 51 washing stations in this part of Yirgalem (17 of them co-ops) At this one buying station several akrabis have their own rooms where blackboards by the door announce the name of the buying mill and the date and the price they’d currently be paying. One of the washing stations owned by akrabi Mr Debebe Dema was paying 13 birrs per kg and seemed to be doing brisk business; Asafa Waranga who was in charge of buying this afternoon estimated that between 12am and 6pm in a good day he could buy around 10 000 kg cherry from about 560 people. Payment to the sellers isn’t immediate; they all got receipts that they’ll have to bring back in a few days to cash in. A few doors down the co-op of Goyda was also buying cherry, and I was surprised to learn that they can actually buy from non-members too- but only the members get a share of the profits made. When this happens it obviously further clouds the traceability aspect for international buyers who like to know the specifics of who they’re buying from, but the more I’m learning about how Ethiopia works the more I realize that the complicated grids and layers of their systems are perhaps impossible to ever fully control, or in all honesty- ever fully trust. Having cleared it with Asafa, we decided to pay a brief visit to Debebe Dema’s station. Luckily he was there and could show us his drying tables and warehouse, and he agreed to let us return later in the evening around 9pm to see the pulping process in full swing. A brief rainfall had us temporarily worried the roads would be too muddy to make it, but when we got back 10 000 kgs of cherry had just been emptied into the collection tank and pulping had begun. Asafa estimated that it would take them 3 hours to empty the tank, so everyone should be going home just after midnight. (I’ll load some pics and video later on.) One of the interesting things about this station is that they recycle their water, and being walked through the system in the dark I had a good chat with Asafa about the challenges and skills involved in milling coffee. The job is only there for 3 months of the year, the rest of the year he has to find other work. He said it was a tough 3 months, but also the best 3 months of the year for him. He’s been doing it for 30 years, and reckons it takes 10 of them just to learn how to judge by eye, smell and feel the correct level of humidity at which to stop the parchment drying process. I believe him. THURSDAY Low morning sun bathed houses and people in a warm glow as we set off to the ECX main office warehouse in Awasa. A 3 year old facility, due to the late harvest they’ve only been up and running for a week this season, and they’re still only grading and cupping the remaining sun drieds from the last crop. Yihenew Tsegaye the warehouse supervisor was on hand to show us around and patiently answered all questions, happy to explain some of the benefits of the new trading platform. One of the positives he pointed out was that now that there are regional warehouses (Awasa, Dilla and Sodo in the south, and a total of 16 across the whole country) rather than just the Addis ones, suppliers have shorter distances to travel and less expenses to deliver their coffee. Now they can make the drop off in a day or two, rather than spending perhaps 2 weeks on the roundtrip to Addis. The Awasa office has a supply zone of a 250 km radius and deals with Sidama almost exclusively. While the Dilla warehouse is only 90 km away they exclusively deal with Yirga Cheffe coffees. Awasa also occasionally get Harar D coffees from West Arsi. I didn’t know there was a Harar D, but this is apparently one of the Bali varietal. (Photo soon) Chatting to Q graders Elsabeth, Frahiwet and Balkew who were were on hand to show us the process in the lab, we bonded over our love for the Sidamo Naturals we got to cup, but agreed that at this point in the year they were Q3’s at best. Yihenew walked us through the many steps in the process that happen at the warehouse, beginning with trucks arriving with bags from the akrabis. They arrive with a spec sheet of what’s on the truck – already controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture in Wareda who pre-sample the coffee that the akrabis plan to send to the EXC. The sheet details the coffee and the truck it’s coming in on, even down to the number of seals on the wires holding the tarpaulin covering the coffee in place. No tampering allowed here! When the truck pulls up all seals are checked and the middle row of 3 rows of bags on the truck is briefly unloaded so the sample collector can access all 30 bags. He’ll pull 100 g from each bag creating a lot sample of 3 kg. This is passed on to the coder, who number the lot and has the computer generate another random code for it, as well as pick at random the three Q graders from the staff who will cup and grade the lot. They get the sample with no knowledge of what it is or where it’s from, and proceed to homogenize it before checking the moisture level three times to get the average. 11.5 % or less is accepted, any higher and the akrabi will be advised to dry it a bit more before coming back. Then the sample is passed over the screen sizers, indicating the percentage of beans in the sample under the exportable size of 14. The defect count is performed according to the SCAA standards before the greens go to the sample roaster who takes it just past 1 crack giving a light roasted sample to taste. Once rested for 8-24 hours, the samples are cupped using 250 ml bowls with 13.75 g coffee in each bowl. Balkew took us through the ECX cupping sheets used to grade washed coffees and natural coffees. If in this first cupping a coffee scores well enough on their scale to be considered for a grade Q1 (100-91), Q2 (90-81) or Q3 (80-71) it will be re-cupped after 8 hours using adapted SCAA sheets, to double check that the coffees awarded the Specialty status of Q1 and Q2 really are up to scratch. Sometimes the samples can cup worse and be downgraded which could of course frustrating for the akrabis, like Mr. Dakola and Emnete who I spoke to yesterday. Based on the grading and cupping, a slip is filled in with the final results, one copy of which the akrabi receives. This feedback loop allows for a conversation about what can be done to improve the results for future lots. Whether the coffee rates specialty or commodity, this slip is also the only thing the exporters have to base their purchase at the ECX on, as they do not get to cup the samples themselves. Understandably this can be frustrating, but the ECX’s stance is that their Q graders are fully qualified to give an accurate written portrayal of the coffee, removing the need for further cupping by potential buyers. The next step is for the slip to passed back to the coder who produces a Coffee Quality Result Sheet linking the results with the correct truck, and the supplier has to sign off on the grading of his coffee. The lot is then weighed twice on different trucks to confirm total weight, and a sheet of Goods Receiving Notes is made which both the supplier and the warehouses sign off on. All info is then sent back to Yinehew in the main office for approval and forwarding to the auction house in Addis. There, the lot will usually be sold within a couple of days, but if it doesn’t the akrabis can keep their coffee in the warehouses for up to a month before they have to start paying rental fees on the storage space. Exporters who wish to buy have to deposit a lump sum of money into the EXC accounts before they can bid, so that upon sale confirmed the money can immediately be wired to the akrabis. It can now take only 3-4 days from the time they drop off their coffee till it’s sold and they have their payment in the bank. Within 10 days of purchase the coffee then has to be collected by the exporters, who now are the ones footing the bill for shipping the coffee to their facilities from the EXC warehouses around Ethiopia. With a truck and purchase notice form Addis in hand they go to collect from places like Awasa, who within a 1km radius have 8 warehoused capable of storing 25 000 bags each. While a system with many good sides, one of the criticisms of the EXC is that it’s not a system that benefits international buyers who wish to deal in specialty instead of commodity coffee, and are unable to go outside the ECX direct to a co-op. While the warehouses obviously can accurately trace all their coffees back to a truck and a washing station, this info is not passed on through the system. For example, the exporters will only be told that a coffee is a Sidamo A or Sidamo B, indicating a vague western or eastern location within Sidamo, but a Sidamo B could in fact be traced back to one of its quite specific administrative areas like Amaro, Aleta Wondo or Dara. But as specialty is such a small part of the total coffee export, the ECX have decided, at least at this stage, not to accommodate the communication of this intel. I hope it will change one day, or that we find some other way of encouraging and celebrating the uniqueness of the coffees from small villages in Ethiopia, even if they are traded on the Exchange. Tomorrow, I’ll hopefully go to see just how that trading works, since I’m obviously back in Addis now and able to post this ridiculously long post! Night y’all!

Ethiopia, November 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011 - 01:58 PM - 3 years, 6 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
(First off, photos and video will be uploaded when I get a bit more reliable internets! Second: I might have got many details and spellings wrong here, so if I learn new, contradictory information to what I’m writing now I’ll correct myself as soon as I can.) SUNDAY I got about two hours of restless sleep in Addis Ababa before boarding another flight to Dire Dawa, closer to the areas where Harar coffee is grown. Good thing first on the program was cupping at the Moplaco offices, the original headquarters set up by Yanni P. Georgalis in 1972. Admasu, the representative from Moplaco, gave a quick tour of the facility- office administration and bag printing taking place in one building, milling in another. It’s the first time I’ve seen processing machinery built in beautiful solid wood, taking the coffee through destoners, metal magnets, size graders, shaking beds etc to finally be hand sorted on the long tables where 150 women work across three daily 8 hours shifts, preparing the final bags for export. The cupping room at Moplaco is run by fellow Q grader Mignot, and as the Probat sample roaster cooled down in the background we cupped Harar A, B and C: A representing the Harar Boldgrain from the areas around Harawach’a, Mesela, Jaja, Abaye, Genemi, Mucha Roba and Hirna in East Harar, B representing the Harar Longberry from around Bedesa, Gelemso, Mich’eta, Asbe Teferi and Mechera in the West, and C; the Arusi (not exported as Harar but growing in the geographical region) that grows around Asela, Huruta and Bulala. Feeling slightly more human from the caffeine, a breakfast of malawa pancakes and jam, and playtime with Lily the dog, the drive south-east from Dire Dawa to Harar was a lovely trip through an Ethiopian Sunday; the winding roads through the terraced hills were bustling with people, smiling kids, trucks piled high with goods, donkeys, goats and cattle. The paved road ended at Dengego and on a dusty gravel road Solomon the driver guided us past beautiful Lake Alem Maya till we finally pulled up to Abdullah Mome’s farm in Hulanjente, Dawe. There are four main types of coffee growing in Ethiopia, the garden type where other food crops are often found, plantation coffee where coffee is the sole crop, and the wilder forest and semi-forest. Abdullah’s farm is of the garden kind, and his approximately 1000 coffee trees, while not heavy with cherry, looked healthy and strong. In some places the Wanza tree was used for shade, a tree that carries a seed very similar to coffee in shape and size- and while considered a defect- it sometimes makes it all the way to the coffee roasters and won’t be detected till it’s high density makes itself known by the noise it makes going through a grinder. The cherries on Abdullah’s coffee trees were still mostly green as harvest won’t take place till December/January, and during that time he employs around 40-50 people to help with the picking. As with all Harar (due to lack of water and scarcity of farms) his coffee is then sun dried before it’s sold on. It’s the first time I’ve seen coffee trees as tall as Abdullah’s, most of the stock around 80-90 years old and easily 2.5-3 meters high. While surely making harvesting the top branches a little more challenging, the only time he prunes his trees is if they are damaged or affected by the parasite plant Digolo- another first that had me very confused. Somehow, on the same branch coming off coffee rootstock, you get one shoot going off into coffee flowers and cherries and another shoot goes off and is the Digolo plant. We saw some trees that had been affected by this and therefore pruned down to the size coffee trees I’m more used to from other countries. I asked him if he saw a change in the productivity of the trees when he pruned and while he said that it increased, perhaps the risk of upsetting the natural rhythm of the trees prevented him from implementing pruning to increase the yield from the rest of his field. Leaving Abdullah’s farm and heading back to Harar we stopped for a quick lunch break and I got a snap of our crew (will upload later!): Admasu, Solomon, Mengistu who drove the other car and Tsegaye who helped translate between Amharic and Oromian. And if you’re wondering what this all looked like then I also took a 360 pan of the Harar hillsides from the top of some rocks. (coming soon!) As we drove past some agriculture and technical universities I started wondering about the work that goes into researching the varietals of coffee in Ethiopia. The seed stock here is often said to have thousands of varietals, unmapped and unexplored. It’s been interesting to follow the popularity of the Ethiopian Geisha when grown and marketed by producers in Latin America, highlighting the untapped potential of Ethiopias natural varietals. I was told that a research centre in Machara has been centered on developing two varietals, one that is coffee borer resistant and one that has higher yield. Only two years into the ground, it’ll be another couple of years till we can see how these two varietals perform and what they taste of. Back in Harar and starting to think ahead to tomorrow’s visit to the Exchange, a lengthy discussion ensued trying to understand the changes and new structure in how coffee is now traded. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has been confused by this and it was great to finally have a chance to pose all my stupid questions to someone who works on the ground here and could clear up a few things. Not that I now fully get it or have stopped having questions! For Admasu and Moplaco the new system certainly has brought with it some challenges. As far as I understand, the farmers now bring their parchment (another confusing thing I got cleared up: here, parchment refers to what I normally call cherry, while what I call parchment is called husk) to central pulping stations and sell it to people referred to as suppliers. They do also have the option of selling direct for internal consumption if they wish. The suppliers then divide or consolidate the amount of parchment brought in into precise 30 bag lots of 85kg per bag, rough mill it into 60kg bags of greens, then sell these lots to the ECX. The Q graders at the ECX then take samples from all 30 bags of the lot to compile a 300 gram sample, check that the moisture level is at the acceptable export percentage of 12% or just under, and following the SCAA protocol they score it as specialty or not (84 point + or below),then also grade it on an internal scale of 1-9 related to the defect count and cup quality (their 1-3 tends to be the 84+ specialty lots, while 4-9 will be more commodity lots.) Anything below 5 can not be exported and is sold for internal consumption only. Based on grading and cupping they then produce a description and price for the coffee which is then offered to the exporters. They then decide on which lots to buy, but unfortunately without having had the chance to taste the coffee first. If, upon having bought and cupped the lots themselves, the exporter decides to complain about the ECX’s decision on grade/price he may do so, and enter into a re-negotiation. But if all is well, people like Moplaco will then send their purchased lots through their sorting and grading machines, removing leaves, stones, pieces of metal and other foreign matter, producing the export grades of Harar that we know: naturals are 3, 4 &5, and washed coffees are grades 1&2. At Moplaco, the final selections are hand picked before selling them on to importers or roasters around the world. After purchase, the exporters have to ship the lots out within 3 months, and every week they have to report to the Government which coffees they have bought, how much and of what quality. If the records don’t match the submitted data from the ECX of what they have sold, the exporters could be audited. Any coffee that is sorted out by the exporters a they clean coffees up to the highest grades has to be returned to the Exchange for re-sale to the internal market. It’s more common in Yirgacheffe and Sidamo where farms are bigger and closer together- but if you’re a supplier who is organized as a co-op for those farmers who deliver to you, you can also be an exporter and thus bypass the ECX- achieving a more direct line to importers or roasters internationally. Not all co-ops used to export, but since the ECX many more if not most of them do. MONDAY The morning started with a chance to cup some coffee I brought with me, the pulped natural from Aida’s Finca Kilimanjaro. Mignot, Admasu and Maju the Moplaco Stock Manager like many cuppers in producing countries rarely get to try beans from other countries, so I always try to travel with something different from them to try, as well as some of their own country’s coffee to so they get an idea of what we do with them after we purchase. The Kilimanjaro was a hit, and even as a pulped they found the acidity to be a refreshing change from the more mellow natural Harars. I also learned of a couple of alternative Ethiopian coffee drinks, the Kuti which is a drink made of roasted coffee leaves steeped in water or sometimes milk, and Hoja, roasted pergamino boiled in milk. Hopefully at some point on the trip I’ll get a chance to try these in person! As we were now back at the warehouse on a workday, the women were in, hand sorting some of the remaining bags left yet to export, and I got some action shots of this: (to be uploaded) The flight back to Addis was a bit of a nail biter, the plane having to return to base after 10 minutes flight due to a ‘mechanical problem’… Fire trucks meeting as as we touched down did not help to settle the caffeine fueled nerves, but having declared us fit for flight again after many manuals and computers had been consulted, we made the 40 minute flight without further interruption. Unfortunately this afternoons visit to the exchange has now been rescheduled to Friday, but armed with the info I now have about how the ECX works, I”m just excited to see it in person. Stay tuned for more!

New labels
Friday, November 04, 2011 - 05:05 PM - 3 years, 6 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
New labels
Having changed the label for our espresso, we also knew we wanted to change the other labels for our coffees. Like the Seasonal Espresso, there were areas of the label we felt had been successful and others we wanted to improve on. One thing we wanted to do was to standardise the information on the labels a little bit more. We also wanted to give a little more space to the name of the coffee – the most important thing on the bag in our opinion. We’ve kept the colour scheme from before. Coffees with the red label like this are roasted to be enjoyed as brewed coffee, rather than espresso. For the single estate espressos we’ve tried to make things clearer again, and the switched colours carry over from the previous labels. Finally there is the decaf espresso label which is still just black and white: We’ll keep using the blue label for special coffees like Cup of Excellence lots or other unique coffees. We hope you like the changes and we hope you keep enjoying the coffees!

The new Red Brick label
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - 01:13 PM - 3 years, 7 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
The new Red Brick label
Labels are difficult things. So much you want to express, and so little room. With the move away from the individual seasonal names we wanted to look at where we thought we had succeeded with label and where we wanted to improve it. The core of the idea was to try and increase the transparency behind the creation of the blend. Rather than filling the label with lots of data we wanted to show the breakdown of the components visually, and then explain why we had chosen each component and what it brings to the espresso. Blending has long been marketed as a dark hidden art, full of proprietary recipes. Our approach has been different but we thought it would be fun and interesting to break down what goes into our espresso a little more. We’re always open to feedback, and while there is a little less data on the label itself there is still lots available on the full information sheets. We hope you like the label, and that you love the espresso too!

Introducing Red Brick
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 02:53 PM - 3 years, 7 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
Introducing Red Brick
For the last three years we’ve changed our Seasonal Espresso four times per year, and named each blend after the seasons. We feel it has been a great success, especially when it comes to generating interest and enjoyment in the diversity of coffee, and breaking away from the idea that a blend has to taste the same all year round. However, as seasonal espresso blends became increasingly common, we felt that the original idea wasn’t as clear as we wanted. Coffee harvesting and arrival seasons do not align with our own weather or seasons, and our intention in changing the name of the blend was always to mark a new time of year coffee-wise, showcasing the freshest, tastiest of the newly arrived coffees we could get a hold of. Now we want to move away from any assumption that we change the name because we’re trying to construct ‘summery’ or ‘wintery’ flavours, or changing to ‘Autumn’ because it happens to be the time of the year when leaves starts falling to the ground. Our true message is to enjoy the coffees as they arrive from growers throughout the year. In an effort to better reflect the diversity of coffee, and to better match the blend changes to the arrival of newly harvested coffees, we’re dropping the individual season names. The new name is Red Brick, which was chosen to reflect the changes in our own company – we recently moved our location to a red brick building. The philosophy behind each new blend remains the same, and it is likely those changes will follow a similar time frame to the old Seasonal pattern, but not quite as regimented. We still plan to enjoy the full spectrum of what great Seasonal espresso blends can be throughout the year. We’ve also changed the labeling to better reflect what is most important to us about the blend – the transparency of the components and to better explain why each is present in the blend and what flavours and qualities it contributes. We look forward to your feedback and we hope you enjoy the first incarnation of Red Brick. Red Brick Seasonal Espresso – £7.50 per 350g

Launching our Espresso Subscription!
Monday, July 18, 2011 - 12:37 PM - 3 years, 10 months ago   - 1. TMC Members' Coffee Blogs  - James and Anette's Square Mile Weblog
After many requests we’re very excited to finally be offering a subscription for our coffee roasted specifically for espresso! The popularity of our filter roast subscriptions have been very encouraging, and we hope that the convenience of setting up a monthly subscription for espresso will prove just as popular with our webshop customers around the world! The beans you will receive will either be our current seasonal blend at the time of dispatch, a single origin or single estate espresso of our choice, or something we’ve brought in and roasted just for you, our subscribers. Unlike our filter subscription, which will remain at 350 grams of whole beans, the espresso subscriptions will be of 500 grams of whole beans , giving you more to play with! It will ship on the third Thursday of every month. It is available for 6 or 12 months, and as UK, Europe and World depending on where you are located according to Royal Mail’s database. Click here to have a look, we hope you’ll enjoy!

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